Kathy Slade

"Kathy Slade and Sydney Hermant in Conversation", originally published in Cahier D'Activité, 2003

SYDNEY HERMANT When I look at your pom-pom I think it is somehow a parody of craft. The way it just sits there (I think Patrik Andersson called it "dumb") rings of a screwball comedy. I am thinking of words like sproooiiiing and flop. This is rendered especially comedic when coupled with the pointed literary and socio-historical references that you use in your work -- Sophie from Rousseau's Emile who writes nothing but "O's", heroines from gothic novels, and Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy, considered to be the first avant-garde novel. I think of the concentration and meticulousness of a restrained lady making embroidery in her gothic castle and the whole scenario bursting apart in that cartoonish moment into a pom-pom. It really is restraint exploded -- it's maenadic.

KATHY SLADE The pom-pom was meant to be funny. To take something that has no real use value, this goofy decorative object, and make it into a minimalist sculpture is funny to me. I think the relationship of restraint and explosion really came through in the Western Front show -- the clean white embroidery work versus the big messy orange ball. The real comedy was in the making of the thing and transporting it to the gallery. It is lucky that the pom-pom is squishy or we might never have got it out of the studio.

SH Your latest work, Please Please Please from your recent Or Gallery exhibit, I Want It All I Want I Now, employs devices of romantic comedy. There is this over the top melody sung so sweetly and melancholically, but it is a teaser. We don't know if you are going to get it, whatever it is you are pleading for, and the pace is definitely not rushed. So there is a sense of anticipation as we sit through the loop: are they going to get together? Are they going to solve the crime?

KS Well I am not entirely sure that I know what it is that I want ... except I know I want all of it and now ... please.

SH OK then ... what about Veruca Salt? We all know what happens to her in the end? How do you see these two works functioning together in the exhibition?

KS I tried to tie both works together with the poster and title of the exhibition. Simply put, they are all ways of asking for what you want. The Smiths song is earnest and polite and asking please. Veruca Salt also has a song, which isn't literally part of the show, but would be super fun to actually sing. Veruca doesn't beg like Morrissey, she demands the world. We easily recognize that she is a spoiled brat who is engaging in a serious tantrum which is considered bad behavior. She is also a girl who has been told no and has to respond, to negotiate her position when faced with the limits of her agency. She is willful and defiant. She is going to get what she wants or die trying.

SH I recently drew a tangential connection between the Please Please Please video projection and your use of the monochrome. I was looking at an essay by Louis Marin In Praise of Appearance which cites Pascal:

From far away, a countryside and a city is a city and a countryside. But as one draws nearer, it turns into houses, trees, tiled roofs, foliage, vegetation, ants, the ant's legs, and on to infinity. The whole thing can be enveloped in the word countryside.

Marin calls this Pascal's "movement of approaching", and it seems very fitting for Please Please Please where the viewer is stuck in your point of view, which is singularly focused on, what you want? ... the end of the trajectory? ... the gallery? This is then defied by the loop. This fixed viewpoint guided by a meandering pace allows the audience to see what is maybe neglected in the singularity: the garbage blowing along the streets, the streets which are pretty much unpopulated, the cars that rove by, the posters on the walls, the signs for stores, etc. I can't help but think of Michael Snow's Wavelength, and it was Michael Snow who identified the experience of experiencing art in a gallery as being a stroll. My main point here is that Wavelength ends in a monochrome. (I have brought this up to a couple people who insist that that photo of water is absolutely not a monochrome, but I feel it very much does act as a monochrome.) As in your piece, it obscures and illuminates the function of the gallery/studio.

KS The embroidered monochrome series was about linking embroidery with what is perhaps a seminal moment in Modernism's history, the monochrome. Pure paint becomes instead pure embroidery and as such pokes fun at notions of utopia or transcendence inherent in the tradition of the monochrome. I don't actually think of my film as relating to my monochrome work although it does have a similar kind of reductionist or minimalist quality in that nothing really occurs in it. Unless, as you suggest, we look at it as a cityscape in relation to Pascal's countryside, in which because of the slow pace of the action you can't help but notice detail. For me my film is about navigating between point a, my studio and point b, your gallery. It is about desire: Cleo from 5 to 7's desire, Djuna Barnes' character Robin's desire (from the Somnambule chapter in Nightwood), my desire as an artist faced with an exhibition and whatever that means, it is a very vulnerable position. The aspect of vulnerability is further emphasized by my singing The Smiths' song Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. Morrissey's yearning becomes linked to mine, locating my desire in relation to my position as a fan of The Smiths and couching my "earnestness" in Morrissey's lyrics.

SH Craft, while implying the time spent, especially with endeavors such as tapestry and embroidery, forms the template for industrialization: there is the pattern, the mechanization of the follow through, the repetition of the stitch. In your work, the stitch is flawlessly and relatively quickly reproduced by a machine, altering the relationship of laboured time to reverie. On the other hand there is the notion of timelessness, of being outside of time, outside of history. Lorna Sage in her essay on Simone De Beauvoir in Moments of Truth writes, "She goes on to remark that pregnancy and cooking teach woman of fatal patience: 'time has for her no element of novelty.' " Which brings me to Cleo from 5 to 7.

KS Agnes Varda's film Cleo from 5 to 7 was a big influence for me in making Please Please Please. Varda's main character Cleo is a vain pop singer who wanders the streets of Paris while awaiting the results of medical tests to find out if she has cancer. The "from five to seven" part of the title refers to real time, the two hours the movie takes and the two hours Cleo has left to wait. My film is not about Varda's film but it shares select elements in spirit.

Because my embroidered works are made by machine, the scale of involved time changes but it still has relevance. A few years ago I spent most evenings, for over a month, embroidering one large work -- measuring, hooping the fabric and watching the machine for thread breaks. Even in "faster" works or works that I send out I am conceptually very interested in the idea which you are calling reverie. It relates to what Freud calls "Dispositional Hypnoid States" -- the daydream state that occurs when women engage in needlework. Or perhaps also to Colette's objection to her daughter's silent sewing in Earthly Paradise -- Colette is afraid because she realizes that her daughter is thinking.

SH Last question, how do you respond to the statement "feminism is over"?

KS I find this statement disturbingly anti-feminist. Feminism is not a universal unified discourse and it cannot be reduced to one thing that can be over. It is an evolving political movement. Some sympathetic critics use the term post-feminism to create a distinction between feminist work since the mid-nineties and the essentialist feminism that came mainly from the United States in the seventies and eighties. Essentialism is undeniably outdated and for some was never viable in the first place. For these critics there is a logic that can be followed and even where terms and contexts are clearly defined it is extremely problematic, extremely impolitic. Post-feminism? I see it as term that reflects the misogynistic society that we live in. It is the perpetuation of this conservative culture that has made feminism a dirty word, an unsexy and unpopular thing to be associated with. I say fuck that -- get your head out of your ass!

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